UTS Thomas Street Building

by | 11. Sep 2016

Educational | Feature
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The exterior of the UTS Thomas Street Building adopts billowing, organic lines.UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Darren Bradley

By Jennifer McMaster

Designed by Durbach Block Jaggers, in collaboration with BVN Architecture, the UTS Thomas Street Building animates a back street in Sydney’s Ultimo. Conceived as a garden sanctuary within a dense inner-city suburb, this joyfully crafted building offers respite from its tough surrounds.

In direct counterpoint to its neighbors, the UTS Thomas Street Building adopts a gently undulating form. This is evident upon approach, as the building’s façade is seen falling and curving along Thomas Street.

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Detail of the façade facing Alumni Green. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Anthony Browell

The entire building form is organic, soft and sculptural. The exterior warps and wavers, unfurling along its length. Human scaled openings – two per floor – add further play to the surfaces. These are rimmed with colored reveals in bright shades of blue, green and yellow.

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The colored windows seen across the building draw their palette from Gustav Klimt’s work. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Anthony Browell

Durbach Block Jaggers’ building is home to the University of Technology’s Faculty of Science, providing the school with laboratories, consulting rooms, a lecture theatre and spaces for teaching and research. The structure occupies five stories above ground, and three stories below. Many of these spaces overlook the new Alumni Green, which receives ample sunlight as a direct consequence of the building’s low-rise form.

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A rooftop courtyard provides additional outdoor space for the building. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Julia Charles

The UTS Thomas Street Building is supported on stocky, tapering legs, which resemble the columns at the Unité d’habitation in Marseilles. Further nods to Le Corbusier’s work can be seen at each entry point, with murals also paying homage to the architect’s work.

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The entry doors are adorned with hand-painted murals that are reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s artworks. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Peter Bennetts

Walking inside the building, a series of complex interior spaces begin to unfold. Like much of Le Corbusier’s work, this is a building to be experienced as a continuous architectural promenade. Circulation is carefully composed, with moments of tightness and compression offset by spaces that open up and out. A particularly memorable mosaic-clad staircase sparkles and shimmers, wrapping visitors in its white whirl.

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A spiraling staircase provides a dramatic circulation route. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Anthony Browell

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Longer lengths of circulation form a contrast to the more winding stairs. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Julia Charles

Throughout the building, the spaces are lit by a series of circular, tapering skylights. As with the external façade, their edges as lined with color, which spills beautiful washes of light down the walls.

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Skylights are ringed with color, washing tinted light into the space. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Julia Charles

Another moment of surprise comes while descending towards the underground laboratories. The building plunges downwards, opening into a subterranean void that is ethereal and unexpected.

This wide, cavernous space is given further life by its surface treatment. The interior volume is lined with white and pastel colored tiles, which are broken into fragments to form a continuous, irregular mosaic.

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Shards of tiles – a Durbach Block Jaggers signature – bring an element of craft to the interior spaces. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Peter Bennetts

These are amongst the many playful touches that can be seen throughout the UTS Thomas Street Building. A lecture theatre is furnished entirely in green, with science beakers acting as custom-made light fixtures.

The construction throughout is refined and meticulous, with equal consideration given to spatial form and finely crafted detail. At times, surfaces appear carved, with sweeping scoops taken from the overall mass and then lined with glistening tiles. In other places, concrete folds out to form window reveals and seats. Light washes gently across all of these surfaces, illuminating subtle changes in tone and texture.

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The circulation spaces are dotted with delicate custom light fittings and concrete furniture. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Peter Bennetts

Across the UTS Thomas Street Building, there is a persistent sense of the architects’ hand, and imagination, at play. Thin steel handrails curve around corners, turning sinuously through space. Slender toothpick columns, which often appear in pairs, dot the building and form structural supports. At every turn there is an element of craftsmanship and care rarely seen in an institutionalized building.

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The staircase displays contrasting textures, colours and surface treatments. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2014 Julia Childs

The UTS Thomas Street Building accommodates a highly technical brief with great artistic expression and precision. It is a unique and richly experiential work of architecture that speaks of Durbach Bloch Jaggers’ idiosyncratic, yet humane, approach to designing space.

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Building section. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2016 Durbach Block Jaggers

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Level 1 Plan. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2016 Durbach Block Jaggers

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Level 3 Plan. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2016 Durbach Block Jaggers

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Level 6 Plan. UTS Thomas Street Building, Durbach Block Jaggers © 2016 Durbach Block Jaggers

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